Monthly Archives: August 2004

Banana – ‘I Don’t Want To be Labelled’

I’ve never understood why they put labels on fruit, announcing what the fruit is. It’s like putting a label on your cat saying ‘cat’, just in case you mistake it for a sheep. I also don’t entirely get the point of these (real) safety labels…
Warning: may cause drowsiness (Nytol Sleeping Tablets)
For indoor and outdoor use only (Christmas Tree Lights)
Product will be hot after heating (M&S Bread Pudding)
Do not iron clothes on body (Rowenta Iron)
Not to be used for the other use (Japanese Food Processor)
Do not attempt to stop the chain with hands or genitals (Some Husqvarna Chainsaws)

Six Degrees

Six Degrees is the theory that everyone in the world can be linked through just six friends-of-friends. In other words, you’re only six friends away from The Queen, Madonna, Skippy the Kangaroo, whoever. This inspired me to list my favourite personal indirect namedrops. Please send me yours too. Here goes. These are all genuine…

My friend’s English teacher’s milkman was Sting‘s dad.

My English teacher was at university with Brian Ferry.

Neil Tennant of The Pet Shop Boys went to school just down the road from my school.

I once sat opposite James Dreyfuss on the tube.

I’ve walked past Pavarotti, Elton John and George Michael in the street. They weren’t together by the way. Pavarotti was wearing a floppy (possibly unironed) white shirt. Elton looked somewhat cuboid. George seemed very short. I’ve also chatted to Elton’s other half David Furnish on the phone.

I once walked into a studio and the composer John Tavener was sitting in the corner. I was so in awe of him, I couldn’t speak.

Cliff Richard once brushed past me in a doorway.

I bumped into Joan Collins once in a corridor and said hello.

I once sat next to Julian Clary in a bar. A friend introduced him simply as ‘Julian’. I pretended I had no idea who he was. In fact he looked completely straight and was quite shy.

Melvyn Bragg, Jenni Murray, Brian Redhead and Kathleen Turner have all opened doors for me.

Lesley Judd once told me how to switch on a computer in a radio production office, but I didn’t recognise her.

My Mum has played golf with Nicholas Parsons.

I know the person who ghost-wrote Jordan‘s autobiography.

My friend Paul has met Nelson Mandela.

My friend Charles (not the Prince) has met Princess Diana.

My friend Henrietta’s parents had Margaret Thatcher round for tea. Henrietta once stood on Rachel Stevens.

My Great Aunt Jane was related to Lady Diana Manners, who apparently met Queen Victoria. Diana Manners was very much the Lady Di of her era and considered the most beautiful woman in England. She was at the centre of The Coterie – an influential set of aristocrats and intellectuals. She was also quite eccentric and, during the Blitz, she suggested that giant magnets be put in London’s parks to attract bombs.

My friend Frank was in the Queen video I Want to Break Free. He’s had tea with Kate Bush and Lemmy from Motörhead. And his friend’s piano teacher was Howard Jones.

My friend Cynthia’s godson Owain Yeoman played Lysander in the movie Troy and knows Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom.

I used to chat to a chap called Mike at the gym and one day I asked him what he did. ‘I’m in Bucks Fizz’ he replied. It turned out he was their singer Mike Nolan. I just thought he looked like him.

I once worked with someone who was one of the Wombles on Top of the Pops.

I saw Alan Bennet once on Charing Cross Station concourse.

I’ve met Wittgenstein‘s landlady.

Take Part in a Six Degrees Survey


I Hate CD Cases

I’ve just broken yet another new CD case. Why oh why do they have such flimsy plastic hinges? And why do the little teeth in the middle, which I believe are called “nubbins”, always snap? Can’t someone invent CD cases that aren’t annoying?

This Land

Turn the sound up on your computer and watch a preposterous presidential rendition of the famous American song This Land

Hertford: The Unauthorised Biography

Hertford may look like a quiet backwater. But it was once essentially the capital of England. Hertford is also responsible for the date of Easter. It was crucial to the education of two of our greatest monarchs. It’s infamous in the history of witchcraft. And who exactly was the mysterious Elbert Wurling? Read on to discover more. Click on thumbnails for bigger pix…

Danes and Mimrams

The Danes invaded Hertford several times, arriving by river from London. This was pretty easy as a ridiculous number of rivers flow through the town: notably the Beane, the Rib, the Lee (or Lea) and the Mimram. No-one knows where the Mimram got its name from. According to The English Place Name Society, it’s also been known over the years as the Memeram (925) Meran (1000) Maeran (1100) Maran (1577) and Mimeram (1728). And, as if that’s not complicated enough, a 1766 map calls it the Mimerum.

Hertford Responsible for Easter

In the year 678, Hertford was the venue for the first General Synod of England, organised by Archbishop Theodore of Canterbury. The Synod united the churches of the six English kingdoms for the first time and established links with Rome that survived until the time of Henry VIII. It was attended by bishops Bisi, Putta, Eleutherius, Winfred and Wilfred (who came all the way from Northumbria). They declared divorce illegal and devised a preposterous method for determining the date of Easter, which we still use (it’s the first Sunday after the first Full Moon after March 21st). Yes…Hertford is responsible for Easter changing its date every year.

Hertford Castle

Hertford Castle was a royal palace for 300 years.
Its flint walls remain, but the old castle-like building that survives in the grounds is in fact the castle’s gatehouse, built in 1463.
In 1216, it was besieged by the Dauphin of France.
In 1359, The Black Prince kept King John of France there as a prisoner.
In 1360, John of Gaunt – the most powerful prince in England – moved in.
Henry VIII refurbished the castle and stayed there with his first wife Katharine of Aragon. (I seem to follow her around. I once lived in a house in the grounds of the Cathedral where Katharine is buried).
Queen Elizabeth I lived there as a child, in the care of a governess. (By coincidence, centuries later, Queen Victoria’s tutor lived in Hertford too).
Parliament met in Hertford Castle during the Plague (hence Parliament Square).
Charles I didn’t think much of the hunting at Hertford so gave the castle to the Earl of Salisbury.

Boys in Blue

For 400 years, Hertford was home to a famous school called Christ’s Hospital or Bluecoats. It’s now an independent boarding school and it’s moved to Sussex. But its buildings and distinctive statues of blue-uniformed pupils remain. Established in 1552 to educate poor children, it was originally based in London, but moved to Hertford during the Plague. Its alumni include the Elizabethan playwright Thomas Middleton, writers Charles Lamb and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (who became lifelong friends in Hertford) and August Pugin who designed the Houses of Parliament. Bluecoats is now converted into apartments. And Tesco occupies the school’s former grounds. I suspect the large palm tree in the Tesco car park was once part of the school’s botanical garden.

Quaint Quakers

Hertford boasts the world’s oldest Quaker Meeting House. Founded in 1669, it’s been in use ever since.

Witch Wenham

The last witch to be condemned to death in England was from Walkern village near Hertford. Known locally as a “wise woman”, Jane Wenham complained in 1712 that her neighbour was accusing her of witchcraft. So the local vicar mediated and secured a massive 5p compensation, which she wasn’t happy with. According to local legend, she then cursed the poor vicar’s household and his servant became ill, claiming to be haunted by mysterious wailing cats. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, the servant allegedly came face to face with a mystic mog which had the face of Ms Wenham. It had a knife in its paw, handed it to the servant and said “kill yourself.” So Jane Wenham was put on trial in Hertford. The judge thought the accusations were ridiculous, but the jury found her guilty and she was sentenced to death. However she was granted a Royal Pardon and lived happily ever after, in the care of the Earl of Panshangar who took pity on her. The case stirred up controversy throughout England (click on thumbnails). Twenty years later, the old witchcraft laws were repealed.
Rare Witchcraft Manuscripts

First Fridge

There’s a small mound in Hertford castle gardens with an underground door. This is an 18th century ice-house, where ice from frozen rivers was stored to form a predecessor of the fridge.